By Emma Nnadozie, Crime Editor, Olasunkanmi Akoni & Johnbosco Agbakwuru
ABUJA—THE Presidency, yesterday ordered immediate clearance of Apapa gridlock and restoration of law and order to Apapa and its environs within two weeks
The Presidency also directed trucks and tanker operators to vacate the Port Access Roads within the next 72 hours.
The Vice President, in July 2018, had made an unscheduled visit to the area to assess the situation and directed relevant government agencies to immediately embark on the decongestion of the popular road.
He had ordered a 72-hour joint operation to clear the gridlock around the Apapa Expressway caused by stationary trailers but the effort was fruitless.
The directive was contained in a statement signed by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Office of the Vice President, Laolu Akande in Abuja.
The directive mandated the immediate removal of all trucks from the bridges and roads within Apapa and all adjoining streets leading to the Apapa axis.
According to the statement, the directive was as a result of an emergency meeting convened by President Muhammadu Buhari and chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on April 25, 2019.
It stated: “The meeting proffered lasting solutions to the gridlock around the Lagos Ports, as the traffic congestion has continued to restrict all operations and livelihood in the area.”
It further stated that before the directive was given, key heads and representatives of relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs, of government, including the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola; Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Adamu; representative of the Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral B.E.E Ibe-Enwo; Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Ministry of Transportation, Dr. Salaam Taiwo Olufemi; and the Executive Director, Marine and Operations, Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, Dr. Sokonte Davies, among others were at the meeting.
The statement read: “Consequently, a Presidential Taskforce, chaired by Vice President Osinbajo, was established to restore law and order to the area within two weeks.
“The Taskforce, which will report directly to the President, has included on its terms of reference the development of an efficient and effective management plan for the entire port area traffic, including cargo, fuel distribution and business district traffic; enforcement of permanent removal of all stationary trucks on the highway, and the development of an effective manual truck call-up system, pending the introduction of the electronic truck call-up system.
“It also includes the implementation of a workable Empty Container Return and Export Container Truck Handling Policy, among others.”
Members of the taskforce
Members of the taskforce, he said, include former Commissioner of Transport in Lagos State, as the Executive Vice Chairman, Mr. Kayode Opeifa; a representative of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council, PEBEC; the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA; and the Nigerian Shippers’ Council, NSC.
Other members include a special unit of the Nigeria Police Force led by a Commissioner of Police, representatives of the Truck Transport Union, the Lagos State Government through the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, LASTMA, and other relevant MDAs.
Navy, Army withdrawn
Akande also said that the Nigerian Navy and all other military formations have been mandated to withdraw from traffic management duties in and around the Apapa axis, while military and paramilitary checkpoints in front of the ports and environs are to be dismantled.
“In addition, LASTMA has been authorised to move into Apapa as the lead traffic management agency, while the NPA is to commence the immediate use of the Lilypond Terminal and Trailer Park A as a truck transit park.
“The directive further mandates compliance by all security personnel and MDAs, while heads of the Nigerian Ports Authority, Nigeria Customs Service, Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, and all other security operatives are to ensure their officers’ adherence to the new directives,” Akande said.
Army, Navy Police, LASTMA, Road Safety Corps, Task Force on extortion spree
Meanwhile, the worsening traffic situation along Oshodi–Apapa-Wharf expressway worsened yesterday as many of the security agencies assigned to control the deadly heavy-duty trucks resorted to extortion of drivers.
Investigations by Vanguard revealed that members of the security agencies engaged in the collection of money and erection of tolls at strategic points on the expressway, and thus created more confusion on the already bad situation. Many of the truck drivers were made to cough out between N1000 and N5000 depending on their destination and areas they wanted to park their vehicles.
It was discovered that make-shift tents have been erected in strategic positions along the highway to extort money from truck and tanked drivers
A security agent, who pleaded anonymity, told Vanguard that they were overwhelmed by the situation and that this was responsible for their resorting to making money out of the crisis.
He said: “What do you expect us to do when the roads are bad and dilapidated? The drivers are adamant and undaunted, ready to pay their way through.
“We are being forced to resort to extortion because we are not magicians. We are strategically positioned to work round the clock but when the gridlock extends from the Port to almost Cele area of the expressway with its attendant bad roads, how do you expect us to perform the magic?
“The drivers are always in a rat race to position their trucks and under the prevailing situation, we are overwhelmed. The only way out is to resort to the obvious and take care of ourselves.”
A member of the task force set up by the truck drivers also expressed pessimism, stating that the situation has gone beyond them.
He said: “I challenge those at the Wharf to do the needful. The government should embark on urgent repairs of the failed portions of the road, and leave effective control of traffic to us, we will definitely deliver.”
Vanguard gathered that over 12, 337 tankers and container-laden trucks illegally parked in different parts of Lagos, especially along Oshodi–Apapa expressway and the 5,000 articulated trucks that invaded the highway, may have doubled.
Many of the articulated vehicles reportedly moved into Lagos in the past two weeks from different parts of the country.
Following this development, the attendant crime and escalating attacks on both motorists and passers-by are on the increase as the gridlock has permeated other access roads out of Mile 2, such as Ago Palace way, Ajegunle, Old Ojo and Satellite Town, among others.
Traffic robbers have also increased their operations in these areas, attacking both motorists and helpless passersby.
LASG vows to maintain, sustain total enforcement
Reacting to the development, the Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Ministry of Transportation, Dr. Taiwo Salami, said the enforcement would be total this time.
He said: “The Federal Government is working along with the Lagos State Government to clean the area and the Vice President is the chairman of the taskforce.
“This time, we are leaving no stone unturned to clean up and make sure they (trucks) are not coming back to the roads.
“A space of land opposite Tincan Island ports has been made available for truckers to park. I want to sound it clearly that enforcement will be total this time around without any compromise
Mobile Policemen, LASTMA will be deployed
“To achieve this, we are using Mobile Policemen, with officials of Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, LASTMA, and not the military because their primary assignment is to control or manage traffic. In fact, they (military) have actually bastardized all the earlier arrangements.
“We realised in the course of enforcement that we can’t do it without the Federal Government’s involvement, hence, the need to complement the present directive.
“We want to assure Lagosians that as a government, we are very responsive and for a situation that is beyond our control and not our doing, we are nonetheless making all efforts to ease the problems of residents.”
Salami, however, commended motorists, road users and residents, especially those staying in the Apapa axis for their patience and understanding so far, promising that concerted efforts would be made to free the road within the stipulated period given by the Presidency without further delay.
He added that another level of engagement would commence with the NPA, tank farm owners, shipping companies, Shippers Council and other stakeholders to forestall a repeat of the gridlock.